Letter: City should adopt Candace Pickens Memorial Park

Graphic by Lori Deaton

We are writing to suggest that City of Asheville leaders please adopt Candace Pickens Memorial Park into the city Parks and Recreation portfolio of assets. Please don’t leave this park in limbo once again. Candace’s family and the community deserve better than to repeat the same failures of leadership in maintaining the former Jones Park, originally built here in 1999.

In August 2021, Asheville City Schools and City of Asheville leaders met behind closed doors to discuss Jones Park, and the public subsequently learned that a decision was made to tear down the playground without a replacement plan. There was no discussion with the community about potential options for saving or replacing this treasured park. We hope that our city leaders will do better than this in several decades, when this park eventually needs to be replaced. Adopting the park is a small step toward not repeating this cycle again.

Thanks go to Asheville City Council members and Asheville City school board members, voting unanimously in 2022, to allow Jones Park to be rebuilt with private funding from the community. In this process, the park was renamed for Candace Pickens, tragically killed here in 2016.

With huge support from businesses and community members across the city and multistate region, more than 1,000 volunteers brought this playground back on line last October. It was two solid years without a park. We really don’t want to repeat this again, losing a treasured park without a replacement plan.

Most of us thought the signed interlocal agreement meant we had city leaders’ support in designating this as a true city park. In the agreement, city Parks and Recreation is obligated to “maintain the playground for 20 years or the life of the equipment, whichever is longer.” Asheville City Schools agreed to cut the grass. Seems like a great win for the city and school to have this asset for all to use. Nice example of leveraging the resources we collectively have here in Asheville to create better parks for everyone.

The city originally helped build this park in 1999 and provided maintenance for many years, proudly posting the city logo on the sign. Why doesn’t the city want to put its logo on this now? Why won’t the city adopt Candace Pickens Memorial Park into the park system? We’ve heard it’s a lack of funding, but this isn’t true. The city incurs no additional cost in claiming it other than posting a sign.

It seems like putting this playground on the city park finder website so folks from across the city know they are welcome to use this playground would be something we should all support. It literally costs no more than the city is already obligated to pay for maintenance already. This is a huge gift to the city to get a free park in a place where generations of families have played for decades.

Take the win — put the City of Asheville logo on the park and tell everyone it’s here for them to use. We want more kids from all parts of the city playing here together. We all, adults and children, build relationships organically bridging all socioeconomic boundaries in shared spaces such as this. Parks build community.

We the undersigned all supported the rebuilding of the park and collectively support the adoption of Candace Pickens Memorial Park into the city Parks and Recreation portfolio of resources. Putting the city logo on the park is a small but important symbolic gesture letting people know this is a place where they are welcome and that the city supports and cares for this park. Please, City Council members and Asheville City school board members, work together to make this an official city park.

— Lowell Grabel, Michael N. Lewis and David L. Rodgers
— Leigh Jackson



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3 thoughts on “Letter: City should adopt Candace Pickens Memorial Park

  1. Think about it

    They cannot afford or maintain the parks that they claim now, so add another? Why not, just tack on another tax increase.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    There was a campaign by her own mother who did not want this renaming after Candace. Respect the family.

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